As the New Year approaches, we are busy preparing for the upcoming session of the General Assembly that begins on January 12.
In order to qualify bills for prefiling, drafts had to be requested from the Division of Legislative Services by December 6. Additional bills may be requested, but then count against each member’s limit for bill introduction, so most members try to get their requests in early. Nevertheless requests from constituents and groups continue to come in and are accommodated if possible, provided the idea is a good one and has some hope of passage.
Most years some 3000 bills and resolutions are introduced in the General Assembly session (House and Senate combined). Since this is the short session of 46 days, there will be intense pressure to handle all these bills expeditiously.
It is only possible to deal with this many pieces of legislation within the General Assembly’s strong committee system. In the Senate, members serve on three or four committees of 15 members each. It is in the weekly committee meetings that bills are heard: the patron presents the bill, then calls on invited witnesses who support the bill. The committee chair asks for other persons who support or oppose the bill to speak, and then members ask questions of the patron and speakers and agency staff. During the course of the debate, amendments may be offered and are voted on separately. If the matter is complex, it may be assigned to a subcommittee for further work or the bill may be carried over for the year. Of course, fairly often a bill doesn’t get out of committee at all.
However, quite a number of simpler bills pass the committee unanimously. In the Senate these bills are put on a Consent Calendar that is adopted with one vote. Of course, any Senator can have a bill removed from the Consent Calendar if he or she would like to vote on that bill separately.
It is the bills that have divided votes in committee that receive more time, attention and floor debate from the Senate as a whole. Again, the patron presents the bill; then other Senators speak in favor or opposition with each person standing as he speaks. In keeping with tradition, all debate goes through the President of the Senate – the Lieutenant Governor. For example, one Senator might ask the President if another Senator would rise for the purpose of answering a question. The President would ascertain if the second Senator would agree to do so; then the first Senator would ask the question of the President who restates it. It’s a little cumbersome, but it keeps the debate civil!
In the end about one-third to one-half of the bills actually pass and are signed into law.
The website of the Division of Legislative Services enables citizens to follow the progress of a bill which can be tracked by subject matter, patron or number. The text of the bill, any amendments and results of committee meetings are posted each day at leg1.state.va.us.
The floor sessions of the Senate, beginning at noon each weekday, are on streaming video and can be found on the General Assembly website.
Finally, we welcome calls and visits. My legislative assistant, Arlene Spinelli, will be available to answer questions, expedite a visit or arrange tours of the Capitol. Our office phone in Richmond is 803-698-7531 or contact us at the email listed below.
Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]